Q: I want to join the Navy Seals, but I can’t continue to take Ritalin in the military. Do you think I would still have a chance of success without medication?

A: Absolutely, yes. It may be more difficult without medication, especially at first, but would you have a chance? Yes, indeed. There are many tips on the nonmedication treatment of ADD outlined in this book. See which ones seem relevant to you, then try to follow them. Work closely with someone who understands ADD before you join the Navy, so when you go in, you will be ready.

Q: Why do teachers sometimes think you’re not paying attention if you ask a question about something they just finished explaining and you don’t understand it?

A: Because they cannot imagine that their explanation wasn’t clear. If you were paying attention, say so, then add, “I just don’t understand. Would you explain it again, please?” It is important that you let the teacher know that you want to understand. Otherwise the teacher may assume that you don’t care. This is a big trap lots of students with ADD fall into. Stay out of that trap by telling your teacher you do want to understand. Don’t assume that is obvious, because sometimes it isn’t.

Q: I am a high-school sophomore with ADD without hyperactivity. My history teacher doesn’t believe in ADD and tells the whole class that I am fat and lazy. How can I convince him that ADD exists and that it affects my performance?

Answers to DistractionA: Maybe you can’t. If this teacher is so backward that he openly insults his students, as you describe, then he may be one of those teachers you simply have to work around.

But before you do anything else, talk to him one-on-one. Give yourselves the chance to solve the problem simply and directly. You’d be amazed how many year-long struggles with a teacher could have been avoided with a direct conversation early in the year. So ask your teacher for an appointment. Don’t talk to him on the fly, between classes. Get an appointment, just the two of you. Tell him you want to work with him, not against him. Tell him you feel hurt when he calls you fat and lazy. Tell him you’ve been diagnosed with ADD and you’d be happy to have your parents and/or a professional meet with him to explain the diagnosis. Be open, honest, and straightforward.

If he does not respond favorably to that, then I would suggest the following. First of all, make sure someone in authority knows what this teacher is saying to you. I’m sure you do not want to “tell on” your teacher; on the other hand, the people in charge can’t control this person’s behavior unless they know it is going on. Perhaps your parents could intervene.

Second, try to change teachers. Again, your parents will need to help. Unless there is no other teacher available, I think you have clear grounds to change teachers.

Third, get together with your parents and a school consultant or other professional to put together a plan for dealing with this person if you are stuck with him. Your parents may need to be quite aggressive in dealing with the school. You are protected under various statutes and laws. The school knows this. Your parents need to make sure the school knows that you and your parents know this. If your teacher wants to play hardball, you and your parents need to put together a team that is ready to take on the teacher&emdash;and the school.

I learned a valuable lesson about this kind of situation when I was working with psychotically violent patients at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston. When a patient got really crazy and violent, the best way for us to intervene was to surround him with a team of large young men. If we did that, rarely did we have to rush the patient and tackle him. Rarely did anyone get hurt. The patient quieted down at the sight of a force he knew could contain him. The key was in preparation, in quickly gathering the needed resources, in this case at least four large young men.

In your case, you need to put together a team that can bring this teacher under control. For him to be denying your diagnosis and calling you fat and lazy is the teacher’s equivalent of psychosis. This teacher needs to be brought under control. The school should help you and your parents do this. If the school refuses, put together a team that can contain the teacher and the school.

You cannot do this by yourself. Don’t try. It is good for you&emdash;and other students with ADD&emdash;to be able to act as your own advocate, but you must know your limits. In an extreme situation like this, you need the help of people in authority.

Before the confrontations begin, though, try to work it out one-on-one, if you can.



Reprinted with permission from the book, Answers to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and John J. Ratey, M.D.